Today on The New Yorker‘s Culture Blog, I published a brief history of sour Belgian-style beer in America, which, of course, is a dream assignment on many levels. “A Brief History of Sour Beer” touches on a few of the remarkable traditions, breakthroughs and innovations that are ushering American beer into a thrilling new era. Of course, there tough decisions to be made—in this introductory format, I couldn’t describe every single sour beer operation in the country, let alone Belgium, where these traditions were born. But I do hope you’ll enjoy this portrait of lambic and wild ales and the artisans who create them, preferably with a nice beer in hand.
…some biologists believe that humans evolved to enjoy low-level bacterial sourness to encourage probiotic health. High-proof pucker, on the other hand, can indicate spoilage. According to a study described in Nature, PKD2L1, the sour protein receptor, also resides along the entire length of the spinal cord, possibly monitoring cerebrospinal health. Sour beer lovers sometimes speak of being ruined on conventional beer styles—forever. It must be love. Or is it lightning, bottled?
I’m just back to rainy Oregon from snowy Denver, where I got to taste my first ever collaboration beer with Odell Brewing Co. In a nod to the writing life (and the ever-inspiring pub) we dubbed this aromatic brew PUBlisher Extra Pale Ale. Thanks a million to Odell Pilot System/barrel aging manager Brent Cordle for letting me get my boots wet — it’s been a long time since I helped brew on a bigger system. We came up with a recipe via email and brewed it during the week of GABF. Into our 9.5bbl batch (mostly pale and pilsner malts) we added three 4lb. hop additions of locally grown Crystals (Hallertau) and used another 18lbs in the hop back. The resulting beer? Sessionable at 5%ABV, bright, citrusy, peachy, clean, refreshing, delicious! Head into the Odell taproom to try it if you’re nearby until it’s gone.
What else? It has been an incredibly busy twelve months of beer writing throughout Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Massachussetts (2x)…San Francisco,Denver (3x), San Diego, NYC (5x), Los Angeles (2x), Chicago, DC/Baltimore, Seattle, Stockholm Sweden, Piedmont, and most memorably Belgium… and even more places I am probably forgetting. No one who was present could ever forget The Festival, the Shelton’ Bros. inaugural gathering of the tribe, held in Worcester, MA. Meanwhile I launched what I hope will become an annual craft beer tradition for NYC,the Brooklyn Pig & Pickle, with Brooklyn Brewery. I also got to host fun book events and dinners (DBGB in NYC, Central Bistro & Bar in Denver, Ale House at Amato’s, Deschutes Brewery & Public House, Pike Brewery, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, 21st Amendment, Pizzeria Paradiso, Oakland’s Beer Revolution, The Kitchen Next Door, and several others), and still found the time to publish about 80 or 90 articles, including my first ink in GQ, my first national Op-Ed, and many more. Sleep? What’s that?
Two late summer highlights: bringing craft beer officially into the International Pinot Noir celebration, and helping throw the inaugural FEAST Portlandevent, for which I was honored to coordinate three memorable beer panels with the help of some of the best and brightest brewers in the world from Cantillonto Hill Farmstead,Crooked Stave, Breakside, Mikkeller, Drie Fonteinen, Logsdon, Double Mountain, Widmer, The Commons, Long,Dogfish Head, and many more. Look out world. Next year’s will take it all even higher. Suffice to say the repeat of Beer Vs. Wine with Cheese starring famed sommelier Josh Wesson, cheese guru Steve Jones, and yours truly will be a rumble in the jungle.
My e-newsletter Weekly Pint, launched in January, is connecting with an ever-wider audience. I’m asking for your help to keep the momentum up. We are up to 30,000 subscribers who get our brief emails 2x/week, with over 11K fans on FaceBook. If you you haven’t signed up or alerted your fans, now would be a good time, as we are giving away a beer trip for 2 to Belgium, curated by Vanberg & Dewulf.
Thank you if you can share that link with your social networks. Weekly Pint is on Twitter as @WeeklyPint and Instagram as well. Please follow along.
Currently Weekly Pint is booking partners for our national craft beer tasting tour for 2013, UNTAPPED, slated for a potential launch event in LA in January. Please get in touch if you’re interested to participate.
Some of you know I’m a cofounder of The Zythos Project, Portland-based makers of The Bräuler stainless steel growler. Featured in a glowing full page review in this month’s WIRED design issue, we are thrilled to have the bottle for sale in more than 25 innovative brewing companies across the nation.
Our company link is here and more importantly, the related KickStarter project is here.Thank you for sharing the KickStarter link with your networks. We have just two weeks left in our campaign, and every little bit counts. For ordering quotes on our much-loved bottle, please contact Harvey Claussen via firstname.lastname@example.org. Be good to your beer!
Also, thank you for all your support of my book The Great American Ale Trail. Out just over a year now, the book has now moved into a 4th printing (14,000 copies in print) and was recently named the top travel guidebook in the United States in the Lowell Thomas Awards, a competition of the Society of American Travel Writers. If you don’t have a copy, Amazon’s got it in stock.
Here’s to finishing 2012 strong, and to a great 2013!
[The following was originally published in Food & Wine Magazine, June, 2009. Enjoy]
Fanatically innovative brewers around the globe are creating new beers with unorthodox ingredients and techniques. Beer geek Christian DeBenedetti makes a pilgrimage to a newly famous scene close to home: California’s San Diego County. By Christian DeBenedetti
My mission is simple: Skip the bland international lagers sold everywhere on earth, seek out small-batch, artisan-made beers in their native habitats and drink them.
It’s early spring, and I am exploring San Diego County, one of the most dynamic beer scenes in America and arguably the world. Avant-garde pro brewers from all over the planet, ambitious home brewers and even plain old beer geeks have made this pilgrimage before me. And like me, they have driven Route 78, a near-mystical road through San Diego County’s brewery-dotted landscape, then returned home with cases of rare beers (and even yeast samples), inspired and ready to experiment.
For me, this is the latest stop on a beer journey that began more than a decade ago. The year was 1996, and I was a beer scholar on a post-graduate grant that allowed me to spend 12 months researching ancient brewing techniques in Europe and Africa.